Wednesday, November 15, 2006

July 16, 2006: Striking teachers block hotels in colonial city in southern Mexico

triking teachers blocked four major hotels and the bus station in this tourist-friendly, colonial city Saturday, part of their ongoing battle with authorities as they seek a wage increase.

Protesters flooded the entrances of the Camino Real and three other upscale hotels in Oaxaca city, 325 miles (520 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City and the capital of the state of the same name. While they didn't prohibit guests from coming or going, the blockades prompted some hotel managers to close their doors and turn away potential customers as a precaution.

The hotel protests came as thousands of mostly Mexican tourists flocked to Oaxaca for a festival Monday celebrating La Guelaguetza, a traditional folkloric dance native to the region.

Protest organizers said they targeted hotels in an effort to call attention to the plight of striking teachers, who have staged massive, often violent demonstrations and set up a protest camp in Oaxaca's main plaza since May 22. They demand higher wages and the ouster of state Gov. Ulises Ruiz.

Although teachers did not interfere with balloting during the July 2 presidential election, they did clash with police, block highways and burn buses in the weeks leading up to the vote.

Those camping in the arch-ringed central plaza sprayed buildings with graffiti and blockaded government offices, prompting Ruiz to send in police.

State officials have said they cannot meet the teachers' demands for a large, one-time pay raise and a federal envoy was unable to broker an agreement because teachers' unions refused to drop demands that Ruiz be removed from office.

The strike has left 1.3 million grade- and high-school students in Oaxaca without classes. Damage to the city and its tourism industry led citizens' groups to demand an end to the conflict before the election.

Federal officials estimated the salary increases would cost about US$125 million (euro99 million) and the state government said it doesn't have the money. Teachers are paid on a floating salary scale that hinges on such criteria as education, seniority and assignment.

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